JAMES FINDLAY AGAINST HERALD ON SUNDAY

Case Number: 2582

Council Meeting: JUNE 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Herald On Sunday

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Court Reporting
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Headlines and Captions
Politicians
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. James Findlay alleges breaches of no fewer than four of the Press Council’s principles, relating to a story published in theHerald on Sunday on March 19, 2017.

The Article

2. The article sets out that Mr Findlay was standing for a seat in the Waikato Regional Council by-election. It discusses his conviction on seven charges of fraud in 2007, and his role in a wide-ranging property fraud involving mortgage brokers, lawyers, accountants and managers. The story goes on to say that Mr Findlay continues to maintain his innocence, notwithstanding that the convictions against him still stand and that his sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment was increased to 18 months on appeal.

3. The story then refers to a woman, Ms Maxwell, who was angry that he was standing, and talked about her own circumstances and how she lost her house. The story concludes by pointing to another by-election candidate who had a conviction of robbing a bank in Australia in 1986.

4. The story quoted the Waikato Regional Council Chief Executive as saying candidates were not required to disclose their criminal history and that a criminal record was no barrier to standing for Council.

The Complaint

5. As noted above, Mr Findlay complains of breaches of the Council’s principles of accuracy, fairness and balance; comment and fact; headlines and captions; and corrections.

6. Much of his complaint to the Council is taken up with his view that he was wrongly convicted and sentenced in relation to these matters. He also continued to maintain there were no victims of these fraudulent activities, and that nobody lost money. He also complained that the serious issues at stake in the election were not reported.

7. He further complains that he did not inflate 40 valuations of properties for McKelvy (the main fraudster), as he says theHerald on Sunday reported.

The Response

8. The deputy editor of the Herald on Sunday gives a detailed eight-point response to what he says are the alleged inaccuracies in the complaint made by Mr Findlay. It is unnecessary to set them out in full here. The deputy editor also pointed out that the print story was not about election issues, but that there was an accompanying video on line (with a link) which quoted Mr Findlay at length talking about the issues he was concerned with, including dairying.

The Decision

9. Whatever view Mr Findlay may have of it, the simple fact is he was convicted on seven charges of fraud. Those convictions still stand. Ultimately, following an appeal, he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment. Mr Findlay’s view cannot alter the fact of those convictions or the sentence.

10. His complaint related to 40 inflated reports is not an error, as the reporter was simply repeating the Crown’s submission in Court. The report makes this clear.

11. Mr Findlay’s view that no-one lost money is sophistry. The Judge found that the overall loss was $6.4 million. It was the Judge in sentencing the complainant that used the words “insidious” and “predatory”, even if Mr Findlay refuses to accept them. The Council can well understand why the Judge used those words.

12. The story does not say that Mr Findlay’s conviction related to the property of Ms Maxwell. Her complaint is the behaviour of the group, and specifically names the ringleader, McKelvy. We see nothing in that complaint.

13. Despite Mr Findlay’s view, the Council considers it entirely proper for a newspaper to report that a candidate for local office has convictions for dishonesty. Indeed, one would think it was the duty of a newspaper to so report.

14. This is not the first time where complainants have taken issue with the later reporting of their convictions. In some cases they have also taken issue with the correctness of the conviction, notwithstanding the fact that such conviction still stands. Complainants need to understand that the Press Council is not a forum to argue for the correctness, or otherwise, of established and long-standing criminal convictions.

15. The complainant opted for a scattergun technique, complaining of breaches of a number of principles. He has not established breaches of any of them. The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Hank Schouten, Mark Stevens and Tim Watkin.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.